Brexit: Jeremy Hunt says EU shares responsibility to prevent 'damaging' no-deal

Foreign Secretary says historians would marvel at how Europe failed to achieve a deal with Britain

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Wednesday 20 February 2019 10:54
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Jeremy Hunt says EU shares responsibility to prevent 'damaging' no-deal

The European Union has a shared responsibility to prevent a “deeply damaging” no-deal Brexit for Britain, the Foreign Secretary has said.

Speaking in Berlin on Wednesday morning Jeremy Hunt said historians of the future would puzzle at how “Europe failed to achieve an amicable change in its relationship with Britain”.

“None of us should have any doubt that failing to secure a ratified Withdrawal Agreement between Britain and the EU would be deeply damaging, economically and politically,” he said in a speech at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

“In the vital weeks ahead, standing back and hoping that Brexit solves itself will not be enough. The stakes are just too high: we must all do what we can to ensure such a deal is reached.”

He said “the only way through the current situation” was for the EU to agree a change to the Irish backstop so that the withdrawal agreement could pass the House of Commons – where it is currently blocked.

The Foreign Secretary added: “At this momentous time, a heavy responsibility falls upon all of us.

“We do not want historians in the future to puzzle over our actions and ask themselves how it was that Europe failed to achieve an amicable change in its relationship with Britain – a country that is not simply a partner but a friend and ally in every possible sense.”

He said a failure to have reached a deal would mean the parties had “thereby afflicted grave and avoidable damage to our continent”.

Senior EU figures have previously decried the “blame game” in the UK press and Westminster. Brussels says the current deal is the only one on the table and that it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

“To be very frank with you I do see this blame game starting against the European Union in the case of no deal,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told an audience last year.

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“But the European Union is not going to be impressed by that kind of blame game, everyone should understand that.”

Theresa May is travelling to Brussels on Wednesday evening for talks with Jean-Claude Juncker. Downing Street has been briefing that talks are going well, though Mr Juncker himself said on Tuesday night that there would be no breakthrough at the tete-a-tete.

The UK will crash out of the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019 if the withdrawal agreement is not ratified. Mr Hunt said: “I think we can meet that 29 March deadline” – though he did not explicitly rule out an extension.

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